Between colonial, national, and international medicine: The case of bejel

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In the 1920s and 1930s, doctors stationed in the Middle East and North Africa debated whether bejel, a form of endemic syphilis, was an Arab version of syphilis, or a separate disease altogether. Using their clinical experience in the region, they tried to weave this unfamiliar phenomenon into a civilizational narrative, which placed European civilization at the top of a hierarchy. The assumption was that there was something inherent to Islamic societies and their hygienic habits that accounted for this difference. After World War II, the eradication of bejel was declared to be one of the objectives of both the Iraqi government and the newly founded World Health Organization. Examining the postwar life of bejel, I question how colonial legacies affected postcolonial and international medical theories and practices, on both national and international levels.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)744-771
Number of pages28
JournalBulletin of the History of Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Colonialism
  • Iraq
  • Syphilis
  • World health organization

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • General Nursing
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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